Lt. Governor Bill Bolling Exits Virginia Governor’s Race

– by Valerie Garner

Bill Bolling with wife Jean Ann (left) and Susan Allen (right) at Olde Salem Days Republican breakfast.

Lt. Governor Bill Bolling announced his withdrawal from Virginia’s gubernatorial race Wednesday morning. It was first reported Tuesday night on the conservative blog “Black Velvet Bruce Li” and on Twitter by the liberal blogger Ben Tribbett. That was followed by confirmation by CNN political reporter Peter Hamby.

According to POLITICO: It was “a recognition of how difficult it would be to win the nomination,” said one Virginia Republican source about Bolling’s move.

Bolling’s withdrawal avoids what could have been a contentious May 2013 nominating convention pitting him against tea party favorite Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who continues to be favored by the right-wing of the Republican Party.

Cuccinelli made national news when he challenged the federal government on the constitutionality of the mandate in the Affordable Care Act taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court. He lost that battle along with an EPA climate change challenge claiming that their findings were “incredibly far-reaching” and based on flawed scientific data.

Bolling stepped aside in 2009 for then Attorney General Bob McDonnell with McDonnell promising to support him for governor in 2013. McDonnell kept his promise and Rep. Eric Cantor jumped on board endorsing Bolling as well. The establishment Republicans were all behind him.

The Republican Party of Virginia had first declared that a primary would select their 2013 nominees. That changed as the more conservative wing of the party secured seats in the RPV and Cuccinelli became their candidate of choice. The primary was changed to a convention favoring a Cuccinelli nomination.

The Lt. Governor was disappointed but hung on, hoping to garner enough delegates to win at the convention. He made the case for having an advantage in a general election against the presumptive Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe. U.S. Senator Mark Warner had mulled over running for Virginia Governor again but announced last week that he would instead seek another term as a U.S. Senator, giving McAuliffe the green light.

A Quinnipiac poll held on November 12 supported the claim that Bolling had an advantage in a general election against McAuliffe. It had McAuliffe and Bolling in a statistical tie (McAuliffe 38% – Bolling 36%) with 1469 registered voters and a margin of error at 2.6%. In a matchup with Cuccinelli  McAuliffe led by 4 points 41% to 37%.

Cuccinelli has only to dust off challenger White House gate-crasher Tareq Salahi at the Republican convention.

In a statement released Wednesday morning Bolling said that he had originally hoped that he and Attorney General Cuccinelli could have formed a united Republican ticket as he did with Bob McDonnell in 2009. He said that while he was disappointed by Cuccinelli’s decision to challenge him, he expected that it would shake out in a primary. However the Republican State Central Committee voted to change the nominating process to a closed party convention.  “While I did not support that decision, it had a dramatic impact on the 2013 campaign,” he said.

The change created too many obstacles for Bolling’s campaign to overcome. “In addition, I know how divisive conventions can be … the wounds that can develop from that type of process are often difficult to heal … I have never chosen to place my self-interest ahead of our Party’s best interest, and I will not do so now,” he said.

Bolling said he would serve out his term as Lieutenant Governor and he and his wife would evaluate future political options. “I can tell you this, I intend to remain actively involved in the 2013 campaigns – perhaps not as the Republican nominee for Governor, but as a more independent voice, making certain that the candidates keep their focus on the important issues facing our state and offer a positive and realistic vision for effectively and responsibly leading Virginia.”

Progressives on social media began speculating that former 5th District Rep. Tom Perriello might enter the gubernatorial race. Perriello is President and CEO of the Center for the American Progress Action Fund, an advocacy arm of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.

On October 27, while in Roanoke at the Obama/Biden campaign office, Perriello left the door open ever so slightly at an office-run sometime in the future but said his work at American Progress was where he planned to concentrate his efforts in the near term. His exact words were, “Don’t hold your breath” in answer to the question when asked by this reporter.

McAuliffe lost a Democratic primary for Virginia governor in 2009 to Senator Creigh Deeds who went on to lose to then Attorney General Bob McDonnell. President Bill Clinton campaigned for the former DNC chair and is expected to campaign for his friend again. Support is also expected from both Democratic U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

One question that remains will be whether departing Governor Bob McDonnell will endorse Cuccinelli. McDonnell, who has shown some ambition for higher office, may distance himself from the extremes of the party as Republicans attempt to garner votes from moderates and minorities. Republicans, still recovering from November election losses, are trying to regain their footing and find a winning platform and candidate going forward. The answer will either lead them to more conservative candidates like Ken Cuccinelli or establishment Republicans like Bill Bolling.

Cuccinelli released a statement saying he was honored to have served with Bolling over the last ten years. “I have kept to the premise that Bill and I are allies in governance, even if temporary competitors in politics. Bill Bolling is a good man — a true public servant who has worked hard throughout his career to make Virginia a better place to live and raise our families. I cannot speak highly enough of his service.”

Bolling’s statement did not indicate he would run for a third term as Lieutenant Governor or any other office in 2013.